Network: HBO
Air Dates: July 12, 1997 – February 23, 2003
Stars: Christopher Meloni, Lee Tergesen, Dean Winters, Harold Perrineau Jr., J.K. Simmons, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Rita Moreno, Terry Kinney, Ernie Hudson, Eamonn Walker, Kirk Acevedo, B.D. Wong, Lauren Velez, Edie Falco, Sean Whitesell, Jon Seda

Before The Sopranos, The Wire, and Boardwalk Empire, there was Oz. HBO’s first one-hour dramatic television series, Oz took viewers behind the bars of the fictional Oswald State Correctional Facility for an unflinching view of prison life—from religious and racial strife, to rape and consensual gay sex, hard drugs, jarring violence, and shit-smearing insanity—and gave credence to the premium cable network’s slogan: “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.”

With no conservative advertisers to worry about, HBO and Oz went deep, gritty, and realistic (balls to the prison walls, if you will) exploring the redemption and destruction of the colorful caged convicts who populated “Emerald City,” an experimental wing focused on rehab but more likely to fuck you up permanently. As disturbing as any documentary prison show, but with fleshed-out characters whose ascents and descents you cared about, Oz locked you in, and was a perfect reminder to stay on the right side of the law. —JM

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